Interview with Professor Kelly Holohan

I recently had the opportunity to interview Professor Kelly Holohan, whose student, Danielle Kroll won “Best in Show” in this past years HOW Magazine Self Promotion Competition. Read the interview below for some great advice and insight into why Tyler students are so successful with their portfolios and promotional materials.

Kelly Holohan is an Associate Professor in Graphic & Interactive Design at Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia. She is a former President for the Philadelphia chapter of AIGA. Kelly has an MFA in Graphic and Interactive Design from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She previously worked in NYC as a Senior Designer at Bernhardt Fudyma Design Group and her personal work has appeared in the following publications and exhibitions: AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers, the Art of Boat Names, Art Director’s Club of Philadelphia, the Big Book of Green Design, Creative Quarterly, Communication Arts Design Annual, Creativity Annual, Designing for the Greater Good, Good 50 x 70, Graphic Design Makeovers, logolounge 2, Print Regional Design Annual, and UCDA Design Competition.

Your students have had such great success with their portfolios and promotional pieces – so many of them recognized in top industry magazines and competitions. What approach do you take to the portfolio course you teach that leads to such successful solutions?

The design faculty at Tyler School of Art encourage self-promotional solutions that truly reflect the student and their work. We support ideas that are personal in some way. Sometimes it involves tapping in to a student’s sense of humor, a design aesthetic or some other formal aspect of their work. The critique process usually involves whittling any unnecessary content away so that the idea can be understood with perfect clarity. Simplified, smart concepts communicate quickly and effectively to a potential employer.

How/what do you think inspires your students to achieve such innovative design concepts?

The Graphic & Interactive Design program at Tyler is all about producing design thinkers who are also design makers. It’s a balance that allows our students to take their careers in any direction they choose, whether it be print design, type/lettering design, web design, interactive design, broadcast design, environmental design, advertising or illustration. The faculty are all practicing designers who are passionate about what we do, and we love teaching — that kind of inspiration is contagious.

How important do you feel a print and/or online portfolio is in securing a job in the industry?

Even if a student has an exclusively print based portfolio, an online presence is critical in today’s competitive market. We encourage students who are not designing interactive work to use a portfolio host like Coroflot or Krop to showcase their work. Tyler design students with an interactive portfolio design and build their own custom portfolio sites. In addition to their physical portfolio, seniors in the Portfolio exit course create resumés, cover letters, pdf portfolios, mini books, and a senior thesis project.

In general, what do you think characterizes an outstanding portfolio?

  • Great Typography.
  • Strong writing skills.
  • Projects that show design thinking with breadth and depth, in addition to aesthetics.
  • Appropriate Solutions.
  • A variety of different approaches to solutions (demonstrates that a student is not a one-trick pony)
  • Impeccable Craftsmanship.
  • Innovative form and use of materials.

Do you have any advice for a student currently working on their portfolio and/or promotional materials?

  • Design a great résume — it’s only purpose is to get your work looked at.
  • Have an online portfolio ready to show if a potential employer asks to see more work.
  • Remember that social media is searchable. Don’t post anything on Facebook or Twitter that you wouldn’t be okay with anyone seeing.
  • Don’t include any work in your portfolio that does not represents your strengths.
  • Practice presenting your work in a concise and meaningful manner. You will be more relaxed in an interview if you’ve thought about what you will say.
  • Go on all interviews — even the ones you don’t think you are interested in — it’s good practice.

Examples of Student Work

Aaron Richardson

Teresa Rodriguez

Wade Keller

Matt Szobocsan

Kelly Thorn

Brittany Coyle

Zach VanBenthem